Causes of  Death

The top 10 causes of death

Major causes of death

Q: How many people die every year?

During 2008, an estimated 57 million people died.

Q: What is the number one cause of death throughout the world?

Cardiovascular diseases kill more people each year than any others. In 2008, 7.3 million people died of ischaemic heart disease, 6.2 million from stroke or another form of cerebrovascular disease.

Q: What is the biggest reason for Non Communicable Diseases?

 It is increasingly eating too much of the Animal sources of foods. This includes high consumption of dairy, meat, milk and eggs. In addition to that people are eating too much sugar oil and salt.


Q: Isn't smoking a top cause of death?

Tobacco use is a major cause of many of the world’s top killer diseases – including cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive lung disease and lung cancer. In total, tobacco use is responsible for the death of almost one in 10 adults worldwide. Smoking is often the hidden cause of the disease recorded as responsible for death.

Q: What are the main differences between rich and poor countries with respect to causes of death?

In high-income countries more than two thirds of all people live beyond the age of 70 and predominantly die of chronic diseases: cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive lung disease, cancers, diabetes or dementia. Lung infection remains the only leading infectious cause of death.

In middle-income countries, nearly half of all people live to the age of 70 and chronic diseases are the major killers, just as they are in high-income countries. Unlike in high-income countries, however, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and road traffic accidents also are leading causes of death.

In low-income countries less than one in five of all people reach the age of 70, and more than a third of all deaths are among children under 15. People predominantly die of infectious diseases: lung infections, diarrhoeal diseases, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria. Complications of pregnancy and childbirth together continue to be leading causes of death, claiming the lives of both infants and mothers.

Q: How many young children die each year?

More than 8 million deaths in 2008 were among children under five years of age, and 99% of them were in low- and middle-income countries.

Death distribution by age and income
Deaths among children and adults: an imbalanced picture

The figures below present estimates for the six WHO regions, with the high-income countries from each region separated off as a seventh group. Regional and income groupings are defined in World health statistics 2011 footnotes (pages 169–170).


Why counting the dead matters

Measuring how many people die each year and why they have died is one of the most important means – along with gauging how various diseases and injuries are affecting the living – for assessing the effectiveness of a country’s health system. Having those numbers helps health authorities determine whether they are focussing on the right kinds of public health actions. A country where deaths from heart disease and diabetes rapidly rise over a period of a few years, for example, has a strong interest in starting a vigorous programme to encourage lifestyles that will help prevent these illnesses. Similarly, if a country recognizes that many children are dying of malaria, but only a small portion of the health budget is dedicated to providing effective treatment, an adjustment can be made.

Industrialized countries have systems in place for assessing causes of death in the population. Many developing countries do not have such systems, and the numbers of deaths from specific causes have to be estimated from incomplete data. It is widely acknowledged that progress in this realm is crucial for improving health and reducing preventable deaths in the developing world.